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Once you learn a poem by heart you own it in a way that you can’t by just reading or listening to it. Once embedded, a favourite poem can provide succour and powerful language for expression in times of high emotion. It is a sort of ‘mental furniture’ always in your head (as are some song lyrics).

I was curious to hear of this competition run by the BBC for primary children to encourage teachers to hold recitals. 15 poems in the first instance are suggested – only one by a woman because of copyright restrictions I believe. Apparently the favourite thus far is ‘Matilda’ by Hilaire Belloc – certainly one I learnt when little. I would find it hard to choose which I liked best from the list. These are all narrative poems with strong rhythm and rhyme.

The BBC wants primary school pupils to engage with learning and reciting poetry. Every primary school in the UK can enter a child aged 7 – 11 to compete for the title of UK Poetry Recital Champion, and the chance to represent their school and region in what will be a fantastic BBC competition, shown on BBC TV in spring 2009.

To help inspire teachers and pupils, a collection of poets, TV presenters and actors – including Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, Blue Peter’s Andy Akinwolere and Radio 1’s Vernon Kay – have recited some of the poems from the Off By Heart shortlist.Dockers MC, Andrew Motion and Slam poets Aisle 16 for preparing and delivering good recitals.

Go on – give it a go.

Here is Michael Rosen reading Macavity the Mystery Cat.

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